At Diamonds By Raymond Lee and Raymond Lee Jewelers, we have a strong affinity towards luxury Swiss watches. We’ve studied the history and continue to stay updated on all the latest information from world Haute Horology. Of course, we also sell Swiss watches at our beautiful showrooms in Boca Raton, and we have one of the largest collections in all of South Florida. With that, we want to look at a topic that is often discussed by our customers, who are watch connoisseurs like us. That topic is “Rolex, Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe, which one should I buy?”
In this post, we are presenting a comparison of the three most prestigious watchmakers in the world – Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe, so you can decide which of these iconic luxury watch brands is right for you.
SHOULD I A BUY ROLEX, AUDEMARS PIGUET OR PATEK PHILIPPE WATCH?
Needless to say, Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe are all exceptional, illustrious, high-end brands of luxury watches. In fact, they are the most coveted, well-known, and perennially popular timepieces in the world. And while you can’t go wrong with any of these three iconic brands, there are some key distinctions for you to consider when deciding which one to buy.
Now, it’s hard to compare the “G.O.A.T.s”. It’s like saying who is better, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Joe Montana? You could base your verdict on various criteria, like rings, touchdowns, passer rating, time in the league, and so on. People will take that kind of info and make their own conclusion…
This is exactly how we are going to compare Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. We are going to look at the three GOATs of luxury watches based on various criteria.
We will be comparing Rolex, AP, and Patek based on the following:
- Price & Budget
- Resale Value
- Prestige & Recognition
- Craftsmanship (Quality & Movements)
- Styles & Target Market
After reading through everything, your decision for which watch you should buy, Rolex, Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe, should be easier. At the very least, you will have learned something about these iconic watch brands.
Price & Budget
How much a watch cost will be a big determining factor. If you don’t have the budget, then there’s not much more to think about. Thus, we are starting here.
First, let’s make it clear, while all three brands are expensive and high-end for the average consumer, the price range between the three is not the same.
To simplify it, you could look at the three brands as such:
Rolex = Low, High-End
Audemars Piguet = Mid, High-End
Patek Philippe = High, High-End
Rolex will have the lowest entry point. However, you will find many Rolex models that also cost exorbitant prices. As for Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, they, of course, have a range of prices to meet various budgets, but their starting price will be significantly higher than Rolex’s.
Rolex MSRP Price Range
Approx. $5,000 – $485,000. Lowest being the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and the highest being the GMT Master II Ice.
Within that price range, you have tons of options at various price points. However, the vast majority of models within collections like Submariner, Yachtmaster, GMT, Datejust, Day-Date, and Sky-Dweller range from $8-10,000 to $30,000 MSRP. So, for what the vast majority of people want when looking to Rolex, that will be a more accurate price range.
Audemars Piguet MSRP Price Range
Approx $17,000 – $ 869,000. The former being a Stainless Steel Royal Oak and the latter being a Royal Oak Grande Complication.
As with Rolex, you will find many price points within that very wide price range. For what most people want, which is a Royal Oak (SS or Gold) and Royal Oak Offshore (SS or Gold), you are looking at a more sensible price range of $17,000 to $70,000.
Patek Philippe MSRP Price Range
Approx $20,000 – $1 Million+
The entry point for a Patek Philippe is $20,000 and that will get you a Patek Philippe Calatrava. For watches like the highly coveted Stainless Steel Patek Nautilus, you are looking at $52,000, and $70,000 for the chronograph version. If you want a gold or platinum Nautilus, you are at $100,000-125,000, and tack another $30,000-50,000 if you want a chronograph.
The newer sports model Patek has that is all the rage these days is the Aquanaut. The Aquanaut collection has an entry point of around $28,000.
Why is Patek and Audemars Piguet more expensive than Rolex?
First, you have brand position, which is pretty clear – Rolex targets a different market, they have different brand values. Rolex is a tool watch. Patek and AP are products of Haute Horology.
Second, you need to understand “Haute Horology”. There is a reason Patek Philippe and AP are part of the Big Three (Holy Trinity) of Haute Horology, and Rolex is not. Patek and AP movements are far more complicated and refined. That doesn’t mean Rolex isn’t as reliable and accurate, as they are, but Patek and AP movements are superior in many ways. Plain and simple. We will get into this in the Movement section further below.
Lastly, another thing to consider is Rolex produces 1 million watches a year while AP produces around 100,000 (tops) and Patek produces only 50,000. Supply plus demand is a big factor in determining the price.
Speaking of demand….
Getting your hands on a new Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe
While the prices above reflect MSRP, which means a new watch from one of these brands, you have a bit of an issue when it comes to actually getting your hands on one. If you are going after a highly coveted model, especially in Stainless Steel, there could be waiting lists so long you’ll never actually be able to buy it. For example, to get your hand on a blue dial AP Royal Oak, you’d either have to wait a long time (potentially years) or you’d have to look to the second hand market, where the price will be different and based on demand.
Thankfully luxury watch retailers like Diamonds By Raymond Lee and Raymond Lee Jewelers have all the most popular models from Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, pre-owned and in great condition, at a competitive price.
A lot of people like to buy a watch, enjoy it for some time, then sell it for the same price (sometimes more) so they can switch up to a new watch (trade-ins). To do this, you need a watch with good resale value. Most luxury Swiss watches have good resale value. They are not a depreciating asset like a car. However, not all luxury Swiss watches are created equal when it comes to resale value. Not by any stretch.
While Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe have good resale value, Rolex is by far the best. Rolex is like gold, you can sell it anywhere in the world, pretty much instantly.
If you look at the top 5 watches that have the best resale value, you will find all three brands we are discussing today on top. It goes in this order:
All that being said, resale value also depends on the model. Some models will have a higher resale value. If you have a highly coveted reference, you can even land a nice profit. For example, a stainless steel Daytona, a steel blue dial Nautilus, and a steel blue dial Royal Oak will all fetch you a premium when reselling. But it’s not likely that you will want to sell one of these unless you are in need of cash as these models are pure classics. In any case, there are many models that end up being worth more than they were paid for when new.
On average, it takes about 5-10 years for a Rolex, AP and Patek watch to regain its original MSRP value if bought new (less for a Rolex).
This is why a lot of people buy second hand right from the start as there will be no loss of value after purchase. Pre-owned watches from these three brands won’t lose much or any value once bought as they were already pre-owned in the first place. This makes investing in pre-owned Rolex, AP and Patek watches a smart move if you are interested in getting the best value for your money.
Strong Resale Value In Volatile Market Conditions
Through the 2008 economic recession and now the COVID-19 pandemic, Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe have proven to be a strong, safe investment. Even during these volatile times, the brands have remained stable.
Prestige & Recognition
For much of the watchmaking community, they will undoubtedly all agree with the prestige ranking as follows: Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and then Rolex. However, for the average layman, Rolex is king. Many people won’t recognize a Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet for what it is. But they will surely know you have a Rolex on your wrist.
Rolex is the most internationally recognized luxury watch brand after all. In fact, it is one of the most recognized brands, in general, around the globe. It has household prestige and recognition across the board. Everybody and their grandmother know Rolex.
If you are looking to impress anyone and everyone, Rolex is the way. But if you are looking to command respect in the watch community, you might do better with a Patek or AP, unless you have a rare Rolex, especially a vintage one, on your hands (or better yet, wrist).
Craftsmanship (Quality & Movement)
We’ve already touched on this a bit after we talked about price. Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe are horology greats. They make up two of “Big Three” in watchmaking (the other being Vacheron Constantin).
If you are all about the best, most complicated, refined movements, Patek and AP will be your choice. That being said, If you love horology, you already knew that.
Now, that’s not to say Rolex doesn’t make great movements. Not by any stretch. It’s just Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet go above and beyond. Rolex puts more emphasis on the watch being a tool and having special purposes, while the other two are about sophistication and class, especially Patek Philippe.
Note: All three houses (or as Mr. Wonderful says, “Maisons”), make their movements in-house.
As for craftsmanship, beyond the movement, it’s hard to say which is better. All three make their own materials in-house. They don’t outsource anything. They make their own steels and golds, and everything else that makes up the watch.
Rolex is known for their many, many patents. Think Cerachrom, Oystersteel, Everose gold, Parachrom hairspring, and the list goes on.
In our opinion, you can’t say Rolex’s craftsmanship is not on par with the rest. It’s just different. Again, a Rolex is like a tool, meant to be used and abused. It could survive an apocalypse. It’s unbelievably durable. Whereas, Patek is about elegance and class. AP is more of a mix of the two, but leaning toward the latter.
In terms of finishing, they are all superb, but Patek and APs finishing technique is of the highest-ranking. Their finishing alone is something to marvel.
All in all, if you want a durable, beautiful, reliable watch, Rolex is the great. If you want something sporty, elegant, and stunning, then Audemars Piguet might be the best choice. And if you want the finest, most refined, and sophisticated watch there is, Patek is the one.
Styles & Target Market
Patek Philippe targets the elites of society. These days young men and old men alike. Patek watches are heirloom pieces and their slogan states that “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” Patek watches are timeless in style.
Audemars Piguet also targets the elites, but it is definitely geared more towards the sporty, modern man (or woman). We’d say 25-55.
Rolex’s target market are high-income, hard-working individuals of any age.
All three brands are highly coveted by anyone who appreciates the finest of luxury watches, but Patek and AP clearly aim towards the wealthiest of wealthy. Anyone who works hard enough can eventually own a Rolex. A Rolex is achievable, a Patek Philippe requires serious money. Dropping $10,000 on a watch is much different than $100,000.
As for styles, all three brands make dress watches and sports watches, but when you think of sports watches, Rolex and AP will come to mind first…
Rolex, by far, has the most variety in their styles. Their various collections are distinct and unique. Each collection has its own unique purpose. Like the Submariner for divers, the Milgauss for scientists, the Explorer for explorers, the GMT for travelers, and so on. Rolex has the best marketing in the game, bar none. Plus, the watches do exactly what they say.
Patek and Audemars Piguet simply don’t have this kind of variety, or marketing power. Most of their watches feel very similar, albeit great. Yes, they have incredible movements, but their watches as a whole won’t provide the sheer diversity that Rolex does.
For the modern man and women, you are likely to be interested in 2-3 Patek Collections (Calatrava, Nautilus, Aquanaut – unless you have serious money to spend and you really know your stuff), 2 AP collections (Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore) and then 10+ Rolex collections. Nothing compares to Rolex’s range of styles and designs.
You will see what we mean.
If history is your thing, you will be pleased to know that Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe all have a long, rich history.
Patek Philippe was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1839.
Audemars Piguet was founded in Le Brassus, Switzerland in 1875.
Rolex was founded in London in 1905.
Rolex’s founder is Hans Wilsdorf, and he is by far the most iconic figure in watchmaking.
Patek and Audemars Piguet share a very famous designer, Gerald Genta. He designed the Patek Nautilus and the AP Royal Oak.
When looking at the last century, it is clear that Rolex has made the greatest impact. The company has achieved so many great things. Rolex was not just part of watchmaking history, they were part of the history of man, which Patek and AP really can’t compete with when it comes to historical achievements outside of horology.
Some of Rolex’s Achievements:
1947 – Breaking The Sound Barrier: Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier wearing a Rolex.
1953 – Climbing Mount Everest: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to climb to the top, and they were wearing Rolex watches.
1956 – CERN: The scientists at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) wore a Rolex Milgauss (anti-magnetic watch), at a time when CERN was doing huge things for the planet.
1960 – The Deepest Ocean Descent: Rolex invented the first waterproof wristwatch in 1926. By the 1960s, Rolex was conquering the deepest seas.
The list goes on, but the above are some of the most memorable.
And while Patek Philippe has made history in horology, having once held the record for the most complicated watch in the world, Rolex was the first wristwatch to hold the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision. This happened in 1910.
All in all, all three brands have a wonderful history, but Rolex’s history is by far the most talked-about and unforgettable.
Celebrities and famous people who wear Rolex, Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe
Hollywood superstars, pro athletes, singers, rappers, royalty, presidents, and damn near every famous person in the world can be seen wearing Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe watches. The three brands are beloved by the elites of society. Your favorite icon most likely owns all three brands, and multiple models at that!
You absolutely can’t go wrong when buying Rolex, Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe. Simply consider the above factors and your personal taste, then make the decision you feel is best for you. Worst case, you can always resell any of these three brands and get a different watch whenever you please.